At quitting time Friday on an unusually sultry day for early May, master carpenter Laszlo Pierson suggested to his boss Bert Hegel, “Let’s stop somewhere for a couple of beers on the way back to the hotel. I’m hot, tired, and thirsty.”

“Me, too. Where do you want to stop?” Bert asked, and laid his level into his toolbox.

“I remember seein’ a place on the left about three miles up the road. I think it’s called Denny’s…or Benny’s.”

“Okay, let’s give it a shot,” Bert answered his thirsty companion.

They had come from their home in Hollowell, a city of nearly seven thousand in Southeastern Ohio, about 90 miles to Oskaloosa, West Virginia, in the heart of coal country, to build a structure that would serve as an office and storage facility for Fletcher Energy—a new small multisource energy company—and they’d been on the job for four weeks now.

Ten minutes later, Laszlo, riding in the passenger seat of Bert’s scarlet Tacoma four-wheel drive, called out, “There it is,” and pointed a finger ahead to his left.

Bert pulled onto the gravel parking lot where a single black Ford F-10 was parked on the lot of a whitewashed stone building that had “Benny’s” painted in black on a white board sign a foot or so above the doorway, with a lit-up plastic Budweiser sign next to it.

“Doesn’t look like they’re too busy,” Bert commented.

“No, it doesn’t. Just what we want, right?” Laszlo replied.

“Yep, you got that right, Lazz,” Bert said and grinned, appearing none too weary after a long work week, and with a full day’s work Saturday still left to go.

Bert was the bigger man of the pair at five-feet-eleven, two-hundred-twenty pounds, with a paunch, while Laszlo was five-feet-eight and thin as a train rail. Hegel had been a building contractor for nearly 20 years and Pierson his partner for more than 15 years. They were working alone on the project which was to be kept as confidential as possible. If anyone asked, they were building an office and storage facility.

They got out of the truck and went in the door and inside was a typical side-of-the-road workingman’s bar, with booze bottles lined up along the shelf behind the counter and the bartender, a slim gray-haired man with a moustache the same color as his hair, a white shirt open at the collar by two buttons, showing off a gold chain around his neck. He was talking to two customers on stools drinking Budweiser in the glass, straight from the bottle. Both appeared that they had put in a full week’s work and were beginning their weekend-warrior ritual with their cold Bud, along with an occasional shot of bourbon or vodka. Both had their ball caps cocked back on their heads and work boots’ laces loosened, their hard hats stowed in their work lockers until Monday morning.

“Howdy, what can I get you fellas?” the bartender asked, pleased that two customers had come through the door and sat at a table on this early Friday evening—two customers that he didn’t recognize at that.

“We’ll have two cold bottles of Miller,” Laszlo said.

The bartender opened a fridge door with twelve-ounce Bud on the top three shelves and Miller on the bottom two, took out two of the latter, opened them, and set them on the counter near the edge closest to the customer.

“I’ll get these,” Laszlo said, getting up and pulled out his wallet.

“Four dollars,” the barkeeper said. Laszlo handed him a five-spot and took his one-dollar bill in change.

“Gettin’ hot out there for May, ain’t it?” Laszlo said.

“Sure is. ‘Round here, it seems like springtime gets shorter every year. Winter’s over and we have a few weeks of warming up, then it’s summertime,” the bartender commented. “Where you fellas from?”

“Hollowell, Ohio,” Laszlo said, then picked up the two beers and carried them back to the table a dozen feet from the bar.

“What brings you down here in the mountains?” the bartender asked, and both of the men sitting at the bar turned their heads to get a glimpse of the strangers.

“We’re builders. Got a job underway just down 52 a bit in Oskaloosa,” Laszlo answered, then set a beer in front of Bert.

“Well, good for you. There ain’t a whole lot of construction goin’ on in this county these days,” he said.

“You fellas union?” one of the men sitting at the bar asked, and although they were sitting at a table directly diagonal behind them, neither Bert or Laszlo could tell who asked the question.

“Yeah, we’re union carpenters,” Laszlo answered.

“I’m glad to hear that,” the man on the right, the chunkier one, replied.

“What about you guys? What do you do?” Laszlo asked, and took a drink from his Miller.

“We’re UMW; we work for Casey Coal. I reckon you’ve heard of Casey?” the man on the left said.

“Sure, one of the biggest coal operators in West Virginia,” Bert answered.

“You got that right, and we’d be down in the mine ‘til ten o’clock tonight if it wasn’t for our union,” the one on the left continued to speak.

“I hear yuh,” Laszlo said. “A lot of homes and buildings in Hollowell would have fallen down by now if they hadn’t been built by members of Carpenter’s Local 141.”

“Yep, we wouldn’t be working now if the union wasn’t behind us,” the man on the right added.

“Sure, we understand that,” Laszlo replied.

Just then, they heard the door open and a loud clack, clack, clack; the cadence of footsteps or bootheels, perhaps with taps on the soles or heels. No one bothered to look behind to see what was causing the clamor; they simply waited until the person came up to the bar. He was a man with reddish blond, almost orange hair, wearing a light blue polyester suit with thick white pin stripes, a white, broad-collared shirt, and a wide tie with red and white stripes on a blue background. To Bert, his appearance bordered on the humorous and the hideous, as he thought the man resembled a carnival clown or some other kind of traveling entertainer.

“Hey boys, where’s all the women?” His words came out in a loud, boisterous tone as   out of place in this bar as his appearance.

No one answered. Bert, Laszlo, and the two miners—his audience that he seemed intent on performing for—could only look at one other in both annoyance and disbelief.

As the man received no answer or no response whatsoever, he let out a loud, high-pitched laugh and said, “Gimme a shot of Jim Beam and a bottle of your coldest Budweiser.”

The barkeeper put a shot glass in front of the man, turned and took down a bottle of Jim Beam, filled the glass, leaving the bottle on the counter, and then opened the fridge and took out a Budweiser and set it next to the glass.

“Six bucks,” he said.

The bar’s newest patron pulled a wad of ten-dollar bills from his pocket, peeled one off the top, and slapped it on the countertop while grinning at his server, showing his protruding two front teeth.

“I betcha get more calls for Tennessee Jack than you do for Cane-tucky Jim, don’t you?” the flame-headed man said.

“That’s right,” the bartender replied, then opened his register, put the ten in the till, and took our four ones and placed them next to the Budweiser bottle, thinking that wad of bills was more than likely two or three tens and a bunch of single one-dollar bills.

The entertainer picked up the shot glass and turned it up, draining it. He swallowed all at once, his face turning a crimson red as he squinted his eyes shut. When he reopened them, he said, “Goll-darn, that’s good Cane-tucky bourbon,” and picked up his bottle of Budweiser to chase the whiskey down his throat.

After wiping his chin, he said, “I’m from Blackberry, Cane-tucky, born and raised, and I prefer Cane-tucky bourbon to Tennessee sour mash anytime.”

“Is that right?” the miner sitting on the left stool said.

The entertainer turned in his stool in the direction of the two miners and crossed his leg right over left at the knee, showing a shiny beige pair of tassel wingtip shoes with dark brown soles and heels.

“Those sure are fancy shoes you’re wearin’. Are they your women-huntin’ shoes?” the man on the left stool asked.

“Hell yes. How’d you guess?” the entertainer bellowed out.

This brought a laugh from everyone, including the bartender.

“These very shoes once belonged to Bo Diddley,” the entertainer announced proudly.

“Bo who?” the miner on the left stool asked.

“Bo Diddley. One of the greatest stars of early rock ‘n’ roll. You boys have heard of Bo Diddley, haven’t you?” the entertainer asked, turning on his stool toward Bert and Laszlo.

“Yeah, I’ve heard Bo Diddley. Saw him play on a rerun of the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars show from back in the mid-sixties,” Bert said, “‘I’m a Man,’ ‘Cadillac,’ ‘Who Do You Love?’, ‘Roadrunner.’ I liked a lot of those early rock ‘n’ roll songs when I was a kid.”

“Well, you’re a man of great taste,” the entertainer said. “I drink to you.”

After the entertainer finished taking a long gulp from his Budweiser, Bert asked him, “Just how did you come to acquire Bo Diddley’s shoes?”

He straightened his tie and smoothed his hair back as if he were a small-town Southern politician preparing to give a speech, or a holy-roller preacher preparing to begin his sermon.

“I’ve been in the entertainment business since I was a teenage boy. I was born in Cane-tucky in Garland County. My uncle on my daddy’s side, J.D. Hensley, got me started in the travelin’ carnival. Me and my uncle was close, so close that folks come to call me D.J.”

“So your uncle’s name was J.D. Hensley and yours is D.J. Hensley?” Bert asked, and the entertainer took a quick drink and nodded his head.

“J.D. and D.J., well what about that,” the man on the left stool said to his partner, and they both snickered.

The entertainer took a swig of Bud, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and began again, “We was outside of Memphis in a little motel. My uncle J.D. was drummin’ up business for the carnival that was settin’ up and would be ready to go in two days. He was puttin’ up posters all over and talkin’ to folks about what a big time they’d have at our carnival. I was sittin’ in a chair at the front of our room with my shoeshine kit and my sign taped to the wall. I shined shoes wherever we went and I was good at it, too. Well, it was after 9PM and my uncle was in the motel restaurant talkin’ up the carnival while I was waitin’ and polishin’ a pair of shoes when a pretty-good-sized black man came up and asked if I’d polish his shoes and have them back to him by nine in the mornin’, his checkout time. I didn’t know him from Adam, but he said his name was Bo Diddley. He handed me the shoes—yes sir, these very shoes I got on my feet—the leather was a little dull, but it would be no problem for me to give ‘em a good high shine, I told him. The black man that was with him, who must have been his manager, gave me five dollars and I gave him back two fifty in change.”

The entertainer stopped talking and looked over at the two coal miners to see if he was getting a rise or a reaction from them, but they continued sipping their beers staring straight ahead. They were not giving him visual attention, but they were getting an earful. As he wasn’t getting a response from them, he took a drink, swung around on the bar stool, and turned his attention back to Bert and Laszlo.

“Well, there was smoke comin’ out of the room next to theirs. They left in a hurry about 10:30 that night when somebody knocked at their door to tell ‘em about a fire in the hotel. Somebody was tryin’ to scare ‘em out of there, I reckon. Anyway, they left immediately, the guy at the front desk said. So I was left the next day with Bo Diddley’s shoes. Luckily, they was just my size. Can I get another Bud?” he asked the bartender, turned up his beer, then clapped the empty bottle down on the counter.

“That’s one dead soldier. Now, what time do the women start comin’ in?” he asked the bartender.

“There ain’t many girls that comes in here,” the bartender said, setting the beer in front of him. “This is a workin’ man’s bar.”

“There was this race car driver at the carnival that told me this was the place to come to meet the ladies,” the entertainer declared.

“Race car driver?” Laszlo asked.

“That’s what he said he was,” the entertainer answered.

“Where was he from?” Bert asked.

“He said he was from Columbus, Ohio. He’d come down here to check into a race track somebody was supposed to be buildin’,” the entertainer said. “He claimed he was sellin’ stock for the NASCAR race track.”

“What did he look like?” Laszlo asked, as they had encountered a man who said he was a race car driver at the Mountain View Hotel two evenings before.

“Black hair, thin build, dark skin. I know one thing: he sure had one good-lookin’ gal with him. I was operatin’ the Ferris wheel at the carnival, and they were waitin’ to get on.”

“You didn’t catch his name, did yah?” Bert asked.

“Nah, I didn’t. Say, you guys know what time the ladies start comin’ in here?”

The coal miner on the left squinted at the redheaded entertainer as if he’d had enough aggravation for one evening, and he spoke out, “Look here, didn’t Benny there tell you there ain’t many girls that come in here?”

“I reckon he did,” the entertainer replied, and took a quick pull from his Bud.

“Lemme see one of them shoes,” the miner sitting on the left demanded.

“What for?” the entertainer asked, and stared slack-jawed at the man.

“I said, lemme see one of your shoes,” the miner repeated.

“Luther, we don’t need no trouble in here,” Benny said.

“There ain’t gonna be no trouble, Benny,” the miner on the right said.

“Give it here, D.J.,” the man demanded once again, his voice a little firmer this time.

The entertainer cautiously took off his right shoe as he’d been ordered and handed it to the coal miner.

“Now Luther…” Benny said the man’s name again.

“It’s all right, Benny,” the miner on the right said.

The miner on the left turned in his stool and hurled the shoe from his left hand. It struck the front door with a sharp thud.

“Listen, if you want a hooker, go down to First Street in Wyemouth by the floodwall. Now get out of here before I take your car keys and throw ‘em clean into the next county,” the miner warned him.

“All right, if that’s the way you feel about it,” the man said, then picked up his change and rose up from the stool.

No one’s eyes followed the entertainer called D.J., but they heard him pick up his shoe, open the door, and go out without speaking another word.

“Carnival? Hell, that guy belongs in a one-man freak show,” the miner on the right said, and everyone in the bar sniggered, which cut the tension in the air a little.

“You think he was talking about our race car driver?” Laszlo quietly asked Bert.

“Yep, I think he was. Now we know one more thing about the driver,” Bert answered.

“And what’s that?” Laszlo asked.

“Sometimes he travels in the company of a beautiful woman,” Bert answered and let out a laugh.

“Now, what’s this about a race car driver?” Benny asked.

“Oh, just this guy we met at the Mountain View a couple of evenins ago. He was lookin’ for investors for a race track, and I like classic cars, so we got to talkin’. The guy wouldn’t stop jabbering about this race track he was buildin’. Nearly convinced me to buy a few shares of stock,” Laszlo said.

“I saved him from losing his money,” Bert spoke up with a grin this time.

Bert and Laszlo slowly sipped their beers, not wishing to make a hasty exit as the entertainer had done, and they pretended that the consternation had already been forgotten, or perhaps that the impolite entertainer had received his due justice, and thus all was well once again. In reality, however, neither Bert or Laszlo was comfortable in this “workingman’s bar”—as Benny the bartender had called it—and when each man finished his beer, not ironically at nearly the same, they calmly and nonchalantly got up to leave.

“Thanks for the beers,” Bert said.

“And the entertainment,” Laszlo said lightheartedly, without sarcasm or spite.

Benny the bartender, who’d been drying glasses with his back to them, turned and said, “Thanks for stoppin’ in. You fellas are welcome here anytime.”

The miner on the left stool added, “If you hear about any work that amounts to anything, be sure to let a union man know about it first,” he said with a twitch of a grin.

“You betcha. Don’t you guys work too hard now,” Bert said.

“Ain’t no danger of that,” the miner on the left replied, and the one on the right was grinning from ear to ear by now, perhaps with pride in his partner for putting the bad apple in its proper barrel.

As the door plunged closed behind them, Bert laughed and said, “Boy, that was one hell of an experience, huh Laszlo?”

“If you ask me, this whole valley is one helluva experience,” Laszlo replied. “I gotta feeling it’s gonna be a long nine months workin’ down here, and these NASA race-track builders and investors, orange-haired carnival entertainers wearing Bo Diddley’s shoes, and touchy, easily-aggravated union coal miners are only the beginning.”

“I’m afraid you’re absolutely right, Laszlo,” Bert said and chuckled. “And tomorrow’s another working day. So, as folks say around here, we best git on down the road.”